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The Visionary Universe
An Introductory Guide to New Creators
Welcome to Our World! This guide is designed to introduce new creators to the Visionary Universe, a conceptual, shared universe story-setting which encompasses the properties developed by Visionary Comics Studio under the direction of its primary creator, C. Edward Sellner.
The guide itself should be accompanied with a variety of reference materials, including a detailed Chronicles of the Visionary Universe and Encyclopedia of the Visionary Universe as well as more detailed entries on the specific ‘themes’ or ‘threads’ which provide the interlinking continuity of the Universe and which link to the area you are exploring within that universe.
The Visionary Universe is what we refer to as a ‘Tapestry’ Universe, meaning, it takes shape through its history, broad creative strokes underlying its characters, places, and storylines, and story ‘threads’ or themes that run through much of its content.
It’s designed to integrate many of the strategies, techniques and methods which have helped sustain the greatest fictional shared settings ever developed in the history of fiction. It does this through five pillars of development or structure. This guide will take a brief look at each of those pillars so that you as a new creator entering the VU can be mindful of how to best approach your work here.
However, there is a twofold goal central to EVERY story set within the VU that creators will be required to honor:
- Each story / special / series must be able to stand on its own, of its own merit and provide a satisfying experience to its readers without requiring another story, special or series issue in order for them to understand, enjoy and feel satisfied. Fans should never feel they have to buy anything they don’t want.
- Each story / special / series should have some elements which ties it to the broader VU, through one of the Pillars or means set out in the guidelines. These should either be overt connections, where enough explanation is given within the story itself to understand the connection, or implicit connections, where the relationship is there, but someone not reading the other stories with the connecting elements would never know.
(see examples below)
Pillar I: History
The VU is a universe with extensive history outlined in its fictional Chronicles of the Visionary Universe. This history provides the primary continuity of the VU. Many other comic universes are based less on their overall history and more on the contemporary or current ‘history’ of their titles, 99% of which are set in the same ‘current’ time. Likewise, many of these seem to exist in an eternal now, not wanting to have ‘long’ history dominating the setting, thus retroactive continuity often moves events up, and phases out less important older history.
Visionary’s universe in this sense is much more based on novel-universes, or single-creator universes where part of what adds richness to a story has to do with the history, cultures, settings, legends, myths, etc. which are shown freely in any given story, and add a sense of history, connection, etc.
The VU’s history thus plays a significant role in every story set within it. The history of the four great ages of Earth, details and developments set through that history are important to the unfolding of more current events, and underlie the mindset and perspective of the people who move through it. Obviously, the more removed in time that history, the less direct its impact, but, this is the goal here. This reflects the sense of continuity and history we all know underlies our own real-life existence. Each citizen of the United States has seen the world differently since 9/11, just as an entire generation changed their entire view on December 7, 1941…
This history exists on multiple levels in the VU in terms of goals of keeping it in focus. It can impact in larger ways, where a given story finds its impetus or catalyst in events in history, or in smaller connections and ties in small references.
Likewise, each story, as you will see in the Chronicle reference, is set at a specific point IN history. Dates, times, years are given and honored in the VU with contemporary books then needing to have time pass in conjunction with the passing of time in their actual publication, such that a year’s worth of publication will roughly cover a year’s worth of time in the VU. Obviously, non-contemporary books will not need to do this as clearly, but they too should show the passing of definitive time.
The general rule for creators in the VU is if it already exists in a form you can work with, don’t create a new one. This applies to characters, settings, objects, races, new worlds, etc. By connecting and referencing things which have already been established, we avoid ‘overcrowding’ our universe with creations that bring little or nothing new to the table. Likewise, this helps motivate creators to define ‘what is new and different’ about what story they are doing.
Likewise, many of the central elements of the VU are not individualized characters, but broader concepts, such as groups, races, or sweeping events as common denominator for background. This adds complexity, but also a greater sense of connection. In the same sense, each new creation or ‘thread’ must have how it relates to the grander tapestry ‘woven’ when it is created. How does it fit into the whole?
Pillar III: Progression
Tying somewhat to the History Pillar, the VU is intended to be a fictional world where the status quo does indeed change and things move forward. Looking over the broader Chronicles, one will see quickly that major turning points in history are threaded throughout the entire chronology. This is also true with the larger, broader strokes of the VU, or the above mentioned groups, races, etc. Most commercial shared settings shake things up, but inevitably return to a given status quo. That will not be the case with the VU. Every story, every development, should move a character, a group, or indeed ‘history’ itself forward. In the VU every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. In addition, every character, race, world, and even the universe itself has and IS a story, thus, a beginning, a middle and an end.
Likewise, one will see that many of the major elements of the future of the VU are also mapped out. Significant events, world-changing occurrences etc. are largely built into the infrastructure of the VU. On a smaller scale, many of the major characters and such within the VU are created with a larger framework of their entire history mapped out already, including for most, the ultimate resolution of their story. This is because for a larger, corporate shared setting, in order to move forward in a realistic way, there has to be a sense (as a creator) that we know where we are moving to. This is critical in helping to ensure that the forward progression does not fragment into a mess that requires a cataclysmic retcon that writes out continuity problems.
Pillar IV: Significance
It’s the philosophy of us at VCS that the best stories are always the stories that hold something of significance. We don’t want to tell stories that are one more rendition of super-hero meets super-villain, and defeats his catastrophic plans with everyone coming out the same as before and the only new innovation was the mechanics of the latest plan.
Each story told within the VU should have significance that makes this an important story. A character should go through a major change, a significant development, whose impact will ripple outward for years should occur, something should happen that makes it clear why THIS story needed to be told. It may not be a major character, or a recurring setting, but, these are okay too. Remember, the VU is not a universe where the status quo must be maintained, it is an organic, living growing thing.
Pillar V: Hope
At its core, each story, even a story that ends darkly, or is a dark plotted story, should continue a strain and element of hope somewhere. Even if it’s a character utterly defeated and brought down who still holds onto a dream, or in dying perhaps finds an element of peace. This does not have to be overt, or in each chapter, but this is an important theme in the VU.
Inspirations / Comparisons
Briefly, here is a listing of the major influences on the VU’s structure and philosophy and why. If you’re familiar with these creations, you’ll see their influences above.
Tolkien’s Middle Earth / Jordan’s Wheel of Time
These fictional universes focus perhaps in one era of time, or even one group of characters, but the history is very visible in a non-obtrusive way. The creators here masterfully make us feel we’re walking through a world with millennia of myth, legends, culture and history, but never make a reader feel its not understandable within the context of telling their linear story.
Conan, one of the most famous characters in the world! His life was mapped out by the earliest stories. We knew his origins, but stories also chronicled his far future as a King. Despite knowing Conan would survive, grow older and eventually wear a crown never removed one iota of energy, drama and spark in a story set in his pirate days. Likewise, Conan grew, matured, and changed. He went from naïve, young and even somewhat innocent, and grew into a confident man strong willed and masterful enough to hold a throne. Thief, pirate, mercenary, soldier, Howard showed the core of what makes a character a character can be there even if there is significant change, and that if a character is loved enough, his entire life is of interest, and adds diversity to the stories.
Roddenberry’s Star Trek
Star Trek not only had a sense of history, but a rather expansive setting. This setting was a character of its own. Especially with the passing of time, the balance of power and intricacies of relationships between the powers became very much an element that attracts interest and attention. There is a sense of a well-defined world (or in this case worlds) where fans could anticipate how different races and groups would respond. This series also contained that strong element overall of hope and promise for the future, which has touched many of its fans.
While CrossGen had its problems, one of the elements that fans did respond to was the concept of a universe with a plan. That uber-story that threaded throughout the various series, and kept being unveiled in small bits and pieces generated some of the most loyal fans, who discussed ad- infinitum what every little detail might mean. It became a puzzle or mystery to be solved and drew fans in.
Marvel / DC
An important element that Bryan Hibbs recently hit on in one of his columns on Newsarama, was that the DC and Marvel universes didn’t start out so much universes as individual books, that grew and evolved into the kind of complex universes they are now. This says something about walking that fine line of introducing series and stories with their own background and setting, that stand strong enough on their own they don’t need a bunch of others to make them succeed. Initially, VCS will be intentional in doing books and series set off very much by time, space, or other means to ensure each book stands on its own, then building the interlinking pieces.
Well, that about sums things up. The most important thing to keep in mind is the VU is an organic thing and will continue to change and grow as it moves forward. We want to encourage each of you as creators to be bold, make your mark, and stake out your area! We seriously believe that the VU could become one of the greatest fictional creations out there.